Industry Voices—Jarich: A 2018 holiday wish list

2018 Happy New Year with digital font
The New Year is right around the corner. (phive2015/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

With less than a week to go before Christmas, we are quickly approaching the “festive season” as my U.K. colleagues call it. I’m not particularly clear on the exact dates of the season and why I’m not allowed to be festive all year round, but I do know that this generally aligns with “prediction season”: the time of year when expectations for the year to come are plentiful.

For those of you expecting a list of predictions to follow, I’m afraid I will have to disappoint; my 2017 New Year’s resolution was to avoid predictions and there’s still a few days left on that one. Instead, I’ll focus less on what I think will happen in 2018 and more on a “wish list” for the year ahead.  

  • 5G: We stop talking end-to-end. In an effort to attach themselves to 5G opportunities and educate the market on 5G requirements outside the RAN, vendors have spent a lot of effort talking up “end-to-end 5G” over the past few years. Where 2G, 3G and 4G all required more than RAN assets, the concept shouldn’t be hard to grasp. It’s also a concept that should be well enough understood on the cusp of the first commercial 5G launches so that we don’t need to keep getting pelted with this messaging throughout 2018.
  • 5G: Vendors talk differentiation. Much like the end-to-end dynamic, vendor messaging around 5G capabilities has also tended toward education: what 5G products they’ll be offering, what use cases they will enable, product timing, etc. What tends to get overlooked is messaging around competitive differentiation beyond tallies of trials and wins. That’s understandable in the very early days of a technology. We’ve gotten past that phase; future messaging must focus less on “me-too” capabilities and chartware and more on specific differentiation.
  • 5G: We move beyond eMBB. We all know the 5G promise includes enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive IoT and ultrareliable, low-latency communications use cases, with the latter two being particularly important for driving new sources of operator revenues. Great; we’re all on the same page. There’s a very valid worry, however, that what service providers know how to sell is the first of those use cases. As 5G gets initially rolled out, examples of how the other opportunities are being tapped would be welcome if only for broader market education. Of course, 5G standards will need to play catch-up (e.g., no narrowband NR for a few years), meaning these initial examples may need to be 5G in name only. But you gotta start somewhere.  
  • vRAN: Startups thrive. The advent of 3G was accompanied by a set of startups looking to capitalize on new network demands and the opportunity for operators to rethink their network sourcing. The same happened with 4G. The ones that come to mind immediately are around the packet core, and most didn’t survive. While not always explicitly linked to 5G, we see a similar dynamic today around virtual RAN startups the likes of Amarisoft, ASOCS, Altiostar, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, and Phluido. Some have been around for longer than others, and while it’s still too early to expect an imminent market shakeout, I’m hoping to see further recognition of how these startups can live besides larger vendors and maybe even some seeing their vRAN assets integrated into larger (multivendor) solutions.
  • Security: We avoid a major telco breach. Quick: Name a major security breach from the past year or so that compromised your personal data. Wasn’t that hard, was it? Now, think about the last time your service provider was involved in one. Not as easy, huh? That’s good news for most of us, but data on the massive increase in attempted network breaches suggests what might be on the horizon, particularly if operators fail to be predictive in addressing security vulnerabilities.
  • Network transformation: Cloud native doesn’t slow things down. While far from a new concept, cloud-native architectures in telecom networks gained a lot of visibility in 2017. Okay, they nearly sucked the oxygen out of conversations around virtualization as operators declared their interest and vendors scrambled to prove that they could meet demands around microservices, containers, stateless designs, and distributed management. The benefits in terms of streamlined deployment, scaling efficiencies and onboarding are straightforward. But for operators just coming to grips with the impact of virtualization on their networks, cloud native also represents a new set of technologies to factor in. As 2018 comes to an end, we’ll see if a need to focus on new technologies has caused a pause while operators reassess their options and requirements.  
  • Network transformation: CSPs get smart. “Skills gap” is a term we’ve all become familiar with as telcos grapple with how to integrate/deploy a new generation of IT-based network technologies and find that they don’t always have the human capital needed. What we don’t often hear about is the impact of skills gaps on network sourcing and strategy. Yet, without a solid understanding of these technologies, you can’t expect the best sourcing or strategy decisions. To be sure, many service providers have embarked on massive upskilling initiatives. These need to continue and extend to telcos of all shapes and sizes.
  • IoT: New use cases emerge. I called out the need for new, compelling, low-value IoT use cases in an earlier column (Industry Voices—Jarich: When do we move beyond cows, bikes and grapes for massive IoT commercialization?). It’s a natural for a 2018 wish list. If new LPWAN technologies can truly bring down the costs of IoT connectivity, then we should see services and use cases which reflect that. If operators truly want to move up the IoT value chain, then we need to see superlow-cost connectivity pricing (bundled in for free?) in an effort to sell value-adds—all of which should encourage new use cases.
  • Shameless plea: Someone takes me to the Olympics. In just over two months, the 2018 Winter Olympics will come to a close. And when it does, we will be able to look back at one of the most highly hyped 5G showcases—more important than any isolated trials and more interesting than fixed applications. There’s a lot on the line. For the sake of the industry, we should all hope that they go well. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them up close and personal.
  • CBRS: A vendor takes a license. Once CBRS Priority Access Licenses go up for auction, we can all imagine a myriad of potential interested parties. Service providers and enterprises get cited often. Vendors … not so much. After all, the argument goes, owning spectrum and running networks isn’t what they do. That ignores the fact that they do run networks (managed services) and, in an effort to support enterprise services, could benefit from being able to offer priority access in the CBRS band. If CBRS is supposed to usher in business innovation, we should all be looking for nontraditional players to get into the game.

To be sure, there’s even more to hope for. Improved telco spending. A free and fair internet. AI kept at bay from killing us all. But you have to start somewhere, and if we can make progress on the above, it will be a fun year.

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Until then, enjoy the festive season.

Peter Jarich is the chief analyst (Global Telecom and IT) for GlobalData. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.